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Bridging the gap between funding and action

As the dust settles on COP15, the Tree Aid team ask, "how can we truly scale up the Great Green Wall?" 19th May 2022

The dust is now settling on the COP15 summit to tackle desertification and land degradation.

Tree Aid CEO, Tom Skirrow, Forest Governance Specialist, Alexis Sompougdou, and Policy and Advocacy Advisor, Annie Schultz, reflect on their experiences at the conference.

Together, they ask ‘how can we bridge the gap between funding pledges for ecosystem restoration and projects on the ground in African Dryland communities, in a way that creates truly impactful investment?’ 

Alexis, Annie & Tom arriving in Abidjan, Ivory Coast

Post-pandemic, the chance to share a room with all manner of experts, scientists, government officials and funders felt like a treasured opportunity.  

Our team attended their first UNCCD COP with the objective of fostering conversations, collaborations and debates to scale-up ecosystem restoration in the drylands of Africa, particularly the Great Green Wall. Two weeks later, our team is tired but inspired. We share an overriding sense that everyone attending was in agreement on the now steps needed to tackle the causes of land degradation. 

What steps are needed?  

We know that to deliver the ambitious targets of the Great Green Wall project, we will have to: 

  1. Come together as a community of organisations, policy makers and funders to empower the thousands of Sahelians  dedicated to restoring their land and tackling poverty. This calls for a  more coordinated approach. A mosaic of land restoration initiatives, across a mosaic of landscapes, requires a mosaic of interventions and stakeholders.  These must combine to form one cohesive solution. 
  2. Unlock public and private finance. Finance plays an essential role in releasing the potential of these diverse actors.  
  3. Finally, restoration initiatives need to be coherent, pro-poor and sustainable. This means the building blocks of good governance must be secured from the outset, so investment can flow to the right places...
Without establishing community access rights, equitable land tenure systems, and collectivising the management of communal resources, we risk failing before we start
Tom Skirrow, Tree Aid CEO

Implementing good governance: 

People and land are inextricably tied together, and the communities on the frontlines of desertification must feel empowered to lead restoration. Good governance can ensure community empowerment, and that projects are fair, sustainable, ethical and transparent. Without this framework, investments run the risk of losing their momentum or worse, are left open to exploitation and failure. 

At COP15, we felt a real responsibility to hammer home the key lesson learned from our 35 years of experience on the ground; that governance must come first 

“If nobody owns it, nobody cares for it. If everyone owns it, everyone cares for it”        – Tom Skirrow, Tree Aid CEO

We have learnt the vital importance of a community-first approach that builds on existing knowledge and expertise. This underpins all of our activities in the Sahel: our work is led by local people with local knowledge, whom we equip with the tools needed to grow trees, protect their land, and start sustainable businesses.

Our approach also pushes for long-term change, influencing policy and ensuring local people have the rights needed to manage their land sustainably.

"It is the one who sleeps in the house, who knows where the roof is leaking. The communities are at the forefront, they have the knowledge and great capacity to adapt. Our experience shows that when local communities are at the heart of the fight against desertification, we get better results" - Alexis Sompougdou

Promoting private investment in forest products: 

"We are not protecting trees for the sake of it... we do it so that trees provide services to the communities”

– Georges Bazongo, Tree Aid Director of Programmes 

Tree Aid are big advocates of  the power of tree products to achieve sustainable, empowering ecosystem restoration. Done right, this can tackle both poverty and land degradation. For example, shea trees provide a vital source of income in countries like Burkina Faso, employing over 16 million women on the African continent in total!

Photography: Lema Concepts - Nakolo Union enterprise group making shea butter - Grow Hope project, 2019 Tree Aid

Global export comprises a large and vital part of this industry, with shea butter now found in many households across Europe and beyond. We recognise the important role of funding from businesses looking to invest in ecosystem restoration projects, and welcome their presence and interest at COP15.

Fig1. Increase in household income from Non-Timber Forest Products over the lifetime of Tree Aid's Strengthening Forest Management project in Mali

Tree Aid was proud to moderate the UNCCD Business Forum session to launch the Great Green Wall Sourcing Challenge – seeking new business investment and sourcing products across the Sahel. In the same session, we helped launch the World Economic Forum /’s latest Uplink challenge to support capable “ecopreneurs”, who can help develop locally owned businesses to supply these burgeoning value chains. 

Tree Aid CEO, Tom Skirrow, moderating at the Great Green Wall Sourcing Challenge Session

However, we are keen to yet again stress the importance of putting communities first, especially when looking to invest in potentially lucrative new markets. From the deforestation crisis of the global palm oil boom to the socio-economic implications of the quinoa health food trend, the unexpected consequences of poorly thought-out private investment are well documented.

Fostering better coordination: 

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together” - African Proverb

The Great Green Wall is behind its ambitious targets. With just 8 years left to transform the Sahel, what will it take to accelerate the pace of change?  

In recent years, there have been significant pledges of support on the international stage. The  beginning of 2021 saw $19bn  pledged to the Great Green Wall in a mix of new grants and loans. 

But this has not yet been at community level: Civil society organisations and local business across the African Drylands are still crying out for support, as the promised funds are not set up to finance the myriad of small-scale, disconnected projects that are needed. 

To deliver at scale across the Great Green Wall, we need mechanisms both in civil society and in ‘ecopreneurship’ to channel funding across the region. Through relationship and coalition building at events like COP15 and beyond, Tree Aid is committed to fostering this change.

Tom and Annie meet Chadian environmental activist, Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim

The Great Green Wall’s vision has been frustratingly slow in it’s implementation. But we believe we can up the pace, and the progress.  A mosaic of thousands of actions, enacted by a plethora of actors will , if planned and managed correctly, help achieve the grand ambition of a green and thriving Sahel.